Alex lives in one of a row of cottages, once intended for workmen, now homes for middle class Londoners looking for more space in the suburbs. He lives with wife Beth and their dog Olive, enjoying quite a settled and peaceful existence. Even Alex’s job as an auditor has a certain amount of quiet respectability about it – some might even say boring respectability. However, when Beth’s pregnant friend Zara ends up without a roof over her head, she becomes a catalyst for change in the house and in Alex and Beth’s marriage. She becomes a third party in the relationship, staying much longer than expected and even worse, she and Alex don’t get on. They start to butt heads over his indifference to Beth’s interests, such as trying to get the pathway opposite them opened up and turned into a community nature trail. As Zara and Alex continue to clash, Beth notices things – for example his indifference to Zara’s pregnancy, especially considering they’ve been told they can’t have children – and this starts to bother her. He has no social media presence, won’t have his photo taken and is very threatened by Zara’s questions about his past. When he explodes, after Beth buys him an Ancestry DNA kit for his birthday she seriously starts to wonder. What is her husband so scared about?
The author sets this uneasy dynamic in the present day, but interweaves it with another timeline, around twenty years in the past. A young man called Richard narrates his own love story with a temp girl he meets in the foyer of their offices. She has just started to eat lunch in the foyer because there’s a new frozen yoghurt machine. After a few lunchtimes chatting in the building, they start meeting for lunch, either sitting outside or taking strolls into St. James’s Park. As they get to know each other, Richard is starting to fall for Marina, but their time together is so rationed. He can never take her out after work, she goes straight home. She can never stay the night, except for Thursdays, but even then she arrives later in the evening and disappears early next morning. They never go to Marina’s flat. In fact he’s surprised when she agrees to come to his birthday party, organised by new flatmate Rollo. Rollo is sure he knows what’s going on and can’t believe Richard is so naïve- Marina is hiding something, or perhaps someone.
Louise Candlish really is clever when it comes to twists and turns and this novel has a couple of whoppers. Some I didn’t see coming at all, both in the past and the present. There are a couple of red herrings too, just to make the story more interesting and send the reader down a few blind alleys. The characters are nuanced and full of faults, making it harder to work out which ones have the normal human flaws and which are just downright evil. I found Beth’s friend Zara so annoying, she’s inquisitive and inserts herself into private conversations and really does seem to have a bee in her bonnet about Alex. She’s manipulative too, using Beth’s grief at being unable to have a child to get comfortable in their home. It felt like she had no intention of leaving, involving Beth more and more in the pregnancy and actively baiting Alex in front of his wife. It could be that she just thinks Alex treats her friend badly, but it could be that she wants Beth and the house to herself. In our past section I felt some sympathy with Richard because he was just so trusting and is let down badly. As the events in the past start to escalate the book becomes so tense. I was addicted, reading the last half in one long session. Alex is as tense as we are and his desperation to stay in the background of Beth’s community venture starts to look very suspicious. Beth is angry because he’s being unsupportive, but it’s possibly much more than that. I could see that he was experiencing real fear, but what does he think will be discovered and what is the link to the nature trail? It’s a labyrinthine plot but I didn’t miss a thing, totally focused on the outcome of this mystery. Candlish has an incredible knack for creating these middle class communities that look the height of respectability from the outside and turn out to be anything but. Thankfully, I didn’t get attached to any of the characters so I could take a twisted sense of pleasure in watching this particular house of cards come tumbling down. This book is addictive, intense and as always, an absolute treat.
Published 2nd February 2023 by Simon and Schuster UK
Meet The Author
Louise Candlish is the Sunday Times bestselling author of fourteen novels. Our House, a #1 bestseller, won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards, was longlisted for the 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award. It is soon to be a major ITV drama made by Death in Paradise producers Red Planet Pictures. Louise lives in London with her husband and daughter. Visit her at LouiseCandlish.com or connect with her on Twitter @Louise_Candlish.
This incredible debut novel grabbed hold of my mind and heart, never letting go until the final paragraph. I shed tears at several points in Rachel’s journey and she’s a character I won’t forget. We meet her working on a plantation in Barbados, at that strange point after slavery when plantations were instructed to free slaves, but their sense of freedom was short-lived as masters were able to keep slaves for a further six years as apprentices. So, despite being freed the day afterwards started just the same, at the crack of dawn and walking to the cane fields for a day of back breaking work. Having nothing meant that most had no other choice. Rachel is thinking of her children, several lost before they had a chance to live but others scattered to the four winds. Her boys Micah and Thomas Augustus and her girls Cherry Jane, Mary Grace and Mercy all taken from her in different ways. Only Cherry Jane spends a few years nearby as a house slave, but in her superior position she doesn’t acknowledge Rachel who is merely a field hand. One day she decides that she must find her children, she must know where they are and what happened to them, even if the news is that devastating final loss. Rachel says that as a slave she plants cane but nothing of her own. However her children came about, Rachel feels that they anchor her in this world and she can’t rest until she finds them. So she runs and with our hearts pounding we follow her.
As Rachel took her journey I kept thinking about my own mum. She always feels at her happiest when we’re all under her roof, all four generations. She told me that she feels like we’re all safe and there’s a feeling of completeness. I am not a mother, so until recently I hadn’t experienced anything like this, but now I am a step-mum and I do get a sense of relief when both my stepdaughters are here under my roof. There’s a feeling that I could close the curtains and we’d all be safe. I couldn’t imagine how it must feel to have those children stripped from you as commodities to be sold. As I finished reading the book on Holocaust Memorial Day, my mind was also taken to an account by a survivor on TikTok where she described her family being split apart into separate queues as they reached Auschwitz. She was placed in one queue bound for a factory sewing uniforms, but her mother and sister were deemed unsuitable for work and in the chaos was the final moment she saw them. It’s a similar atrocity, so huge that it’s hard to imagine or compute. A whole race of people are deemed as expendable and discarded with no more regard than swatting a fly. In amongst some powerful and distressing scenes in the book, one thing that hit me really hard was Rachel’s realisation that her emotions didn’t matter. As a younger woman she had held herself proudly and resolutely, determined that the actions of the overseer wouldn’t make her cry. As an older woman she realises that she could have owned her grief, it wouldn’t have satisfied or pleased the overseer to see her distress because she simply didn’t matter to him.
Rachel’s journey is a long one, across Barbados and over to Trinidad, and we experience every moment with her. The author provides vivid descriptions of each place Rachel experiences down to the way the earth feels under her feet. Cities give her a certain anonymity, but it’s in nature that I really felt Rachel’s freedom. The author layers sounds of birds, running water and wind through the trees with the feel of leaves or water against the skin. The water of the rivers are welcoming and help her journey: kayaking up the Demerara to look for runaway communities in the forest and Thomas Augustus; rushing down river holding an uprooted tree to avoid capture; feeling cocooned and supported by the water in a bathing pool. The runaway community are made up of escaped slaves and indigenous tribesmen who have survived the colonisation of their island and the forest both hides them and supports them. There is a sense of abundance in the food, the company and the mix of cultures that comes out in musical form. The ancient songs of Rachel’s African heritage come alive for her when mixed with slave songs and the music of the indigenous tribes represented. It seems fitting that it is in the forest that a marriage takes place and a baby is born – these are the building blocks of the future and that future is truly free.
I found some of the characters Rachel comes across on her travels fascinating and they add something to the tale by bringing their own experience, adjustment and acceptance of their situation. Nobody has adopted the very part of his identity forged by the slave experience, the sense that he is no one and belongs nowhere. Despite the negative connotations of the name, being nobody allows him to take his power back, to be anonymous, to escape unseen and leave a mark nowhere. He has been transitory ever since he started running, living a transitory life on the ships that travel between the islands, perhaps feeling more at home in the water than on the land he was enslaved by. I wondered whether Rachel’s quest would make a mark on him and if he would find a true home, whether that be a place or a person. I was also intrigued by Hope, whose very name embodies looking forward. She has found her place in Bridgetown by entertaining paying gentlemen. She is beautiful, impeccably dressed and seems to have found a independent way of living she’s at peace with. While some people don’t want to be seen with her, Rachel is not so judgmental. After all, Rachel tells us, men have been inside her but there she was the one who paid the price. The threat of sexual violence is alluded to but never explicit. Rachel won’t discuss or ask another woman how her children have come into being, because she knows the pain of a pregnancy where you pray the child you carry has no resemblance to it’s father. Equally she knows what it’s like to dread the birth of a child who might bear a resemblance to a man greatly loved and lost forever. We don’t know about the conception of any of Rachel’s children. Her ‘pickney’, as she calls them, are hers and hers alone and it is this that makes it imperative that she finds them. She needs to find them, in order to feel whole.
The whole journey is littered with joys and terrible grief, but Rachel knows she must keep going. She meets others who have started to build a new life, placing the past firmly behind them and never pining for it. They live firmly in the here and now with questions left unanswered and people left behind. For Rachel that isn’t enough. Her children are like the scattered pieces of a broken vase. She doesn’t expect her family to be perfect and knows that there will be cracks and missing pieces. Rachel is putting her broken vase back together and she will pour a substance into the cracks, bringing the pieces together until her past is whole again. The binding substance used in Japanese Kintsugi pottery is usually gold, each crack making the piece more beautiful. In Rachel’s case the binding substance is love. Love for those here, those found but far away and those gone forever. An all encompassing love symbolised by the birth of a baby in the forest.
There was a ‘feeling of complete, absorbing, unqualified love. The baby was a stranger, without speech, unknowable. It would be years before he could say what was on his mind. And yet, love did not wait. Love was there in the beginning – even before the beginning. Love needed no words, no introduction. Existence was enough.’
Published on 19th Jan by Headline Review
Meet The Author
Eleanor Shearer is a mixed race writer from the UK. She splits her time between London and Ramsgate on the coast of Kent, so that she never has to go too long without seeing the sea.
As the granddaughter of Caribbean immigrants who came to the UK as part of the Windrush Generation, Eleanor has always been drawn to Caribbean history. Her first novel, RIVER SING ME HOME (Headline, UK & Berkley, USA) is inspired by the true stories of the brave woman who went looking for their stolen children after the abolition of slavery in 1834.
The novel draws on her time spent in the Caribbean, visiting family in St Lucia and Barbados. It was also informed by her Master’s degree in Politics, where she focused on how slavery is remembered on the islands today. She travelled to the Caribbean and interviewed activists, historians and family members, and their reflections on what it really means to be free made her more determined than ever to bring the hidden stories of slavery to light.
It has been my honour to meet this incredible writer and lovely lady on more than one occasion. The one that really stays with me is her visit to Lindum Books in Lincoln, at a time when caring responsibilities really cut into my ability to have a normal life. Having waited some time for a late carer to arrive I telephoned the book shop to enquire whether Rachel was still there. I was told she would be leaving in a few moments, so I explained what had happened and said I’d rush to get there. When I arrived, she was sat holding her coat and bag, clearly ready to leave, but she had waited for me to arrive because she didn’t want me to miss out. She signed my book and my friend’s book too, chatted about her writing and never showed impatience or a need to rush. I absolutely treasured that thirty minutes, because it showed such kindness and respect for her reader, but also because it was something I managed to do that was just about me. It was about me as a person and something I loved, nothing to do with my caring role. When meeting the NHS or social services about my husband and his care, I often felt overlooked and under appreciated by the powers that be and my personal needs didn’t matter. I often felt that I had lost myself and the things I enjoyed, so this moment mattered and showed an understanding that can be seen in her writing of this trilogy. The latest, Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North, was published late last year and it seems a perfect time to look back on these characters.
The first in the series, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry came out in paperback in 2013. Harold Fry is a retired gentleman living quietly with his wife Maureen. One morning he pops out to post a letter, with no idea he is about to walk the length of the country. If it had entered his head he might have left with better clothing and something more robust than canvas shoes. We know nothing about Harold when he starts his journey, an idea that pops into his brain during a conversation at a petrol station in the time it takes for the microwave to heat a burger. Rachel trusts her reader and her story, she knows the reader will want to read on, to know more about this man and what has happened in his life to create his need to walk. We begin to understand that what looks to outsiders like a ‘little life’ hides a torrent of emotion and experiences, because as Harold walks and runs he processes his life choices and the feelings that have been building up under the surface. We see his memories of meeting Maureen, set against her current, curtained off, attitude to Harold and to life. His difficult relationship with his son David. The closest friend he has ever had. All of this beautiful, painful and un-examined emotion comes out as Harold walks and his canvas shoes fray. We also get to enjoy his outer world, the people he meets and the kindnesses afforded to him on his journey. We gradually get the context of the letter Harold was replying to, a letter from that closest friend, Queenie Hennessy. Queenie was there for Harold when he most needed someone, but twenty years have passed and she is in a hospice in Berwick-Upon- Tweed in her final weeks. So, Harold’s pilgrimage is towards Queenie. He thinks that as long as he keeps walking and running, Queenie will wait for him.
Rachel is telling us to look beyond the surface for the context of things, starting with the assumption that Maureen and Harold are a settled old married couple with little more going on than their housework routine and fetching the paper every morning. Both are people, with a lifetime’s worth of events, emotions, gains and losses, just like you or me. Elderly people don’t cease to have ups and downs and their marriage, once we know what they have faced, is miraculously intact but still needs tending. I was desperately hoping that Harold’s pilgrimage and some time with Queenie might restore their connection in some way and bring Maureen from behind her barricades. That the further apart they become on the map, the closer they can become emotionally. We are taken through a changing landscape too, noticing nature and seasonal change as well as the sheer beauty of the country we live in without being twee or whimsical. Harold’s journey is a reminder that we can get up and change things, we can renew our relationships with others and ourselves and we can find meaning between the lines. Rachel Joyce reminds us that, if we choose to look, there is always something extraordinary in the every day.
For even more context, Rachel then takes us into the life of Queenie Hennessy – moving her from the sidelines as part of Harold’s story, to the centre of her own intersecting narrative. The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is my favourite in the series, because it shows how someone can seem to have such a small part in your life, while you can be at the absolute centre of theirs. I also love how Queenie’s story unfolds, as she learns that Harold is making his way up the country on foot towards her, she doesn’t know whether she can hang on for him to arrive. When she confides in one of the hospice volunteers, she comes up with a brilliant suggestion and one that makes so much sense from this writing therapist’s perspective. To alleviate her anxiety and be sure that Harold knows the whole story, the volunteer suggests she writes to him. Not like the first letter, these letters should be honest and atone for the past in a way she hasn’t done for twenty years. So, from her hospice bed, Queenie makes a journey into the past with Sister Mary Inconnue at the keyboard. She admits to her love for Harold, a love given freely and without reward for decades. She tells him of her friendship with his son David and how she tried to help him. She tells him about her cottage and the beloved garden she has created by the sea and its meaning to her and those who visit. Again, the author takes us into an experience we could see as depressing and final, but is actually a beginning that’s both vital and life affirming. Harold’s impending visit and her letter rich with memories and context that may help both Harold and Maureen, allow Queenie to live while dying and create even more meaning to her life.
The final part of this trilogy seems like such a slight novel, when it arrived from the publisher I thought I’d been sent an extract rather than the full book. However, it packs a hefty emotional punch and brought a lump to my throat as we explored Maureen Fry’s inner world and her need for healing as a mother. In Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North, it is time for Maureen to take her own pilgrimage, ten years after her husband’s famous 600 mile journey. Again it’s a letter that sparks the change, a postcard from Kate who helped Harold on his journey telling them about Queenie’s garden which has become the Garden of Relics in Embleton Bay, Northumberland. Kate said there was a monument there that Queenie had built for their son David and this niggled away at Maureen as the months passed. Lots of questions and emotions started to buzz around her head: why had Queenie built this monument? Who gave her the right to do that? Why hadn’t Harold known about the friendship between Queenie and David? When she looked up the garden on the internet, Maureen found lots of people who had visited and enjoyed it enough to comment. Why had they seen this monument to David when she hadn’t? She felt angry and displaced somehow. After a terrible nightmare, where she found David lost and alone in the earth, Harold suggests that perhaps Maureen needs to see this garden for herself? She could see Kate and visit with her. Maureen knows that Harold cares about Kate and that she was kind to him on his journey. She’s some sort of activist and Maureen can’t imagine what she would say to someone like that. They wouldn’t get along.
When Maureen resolves to drive up to Northumberland and see the garden, she prepares for her journey in complete contrast to Harold. It shows the differences in their character and as she packs her sandwiches and her thermos flask I realised that Maureen believes everything can be prepared for and organised. This is why those unexpected side swipes that life deals out from time to time have affected her so badly. She tries to work them out, questions what she could have done differently and potentially blames herself. She learns very quickly, as roadworks take her off the A38 and she’s completely lost, that you can’t prepare for everything and sometimes you have to rely on the kindness of strangers. A lesson that’s repeated until Maureen simply has to give in and be wholly dependent on someone else, perhaps the last person she expected. These experiences open her up to the world in a way she hasn’t before. I won’t reveal what Maureen finds in the garden, but I felt it could be taken two different ways. Before her journey there was a void at her centre that she believed could never be filled and she held it close as a symbol of all she had lost. My hope was that after the journey that void would be become an opening, creating room for all the people she could let in. That’s the thing with Rachel Joyce’s writing, it may seem whimsical, charming and light, but it isn’t. While it might not be dramatic, it deals with the biggest themes in life; growing old, love, identity, birth, death, friendship and personal growth. To borrow that phrase again from Shirley Valentine, these are not ordinary ‘little lives’, they are extraordinary.
Meet The Author
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, The Music Shop, and the New York Times bestseller Miss Benson’s Beetle, as well as a collection of interlinked short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her books have sold over 5 million copies worldwide, and been translated into thirty-six languages. Two are currently in development for film.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’ 2014.
Rachel has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, including all the Bronte novels. She lives with her family near Stroud.
This book is a real hidden gem. I love fashion, so the idea of a dress that calls down through the years – the midnight blue satin, made of many pieces but with such tiny stitches it appears as if one piece of fabric – really appealed to me. Added to this, my in-laws history of escaping the Warsaw ghetto – at 8 years old in one case, and being sent to Siberia in the other – means I am interested in the threads of family history at a time of turmoil. My late husband’s family has its own incredible story with repercussions that echo down the generation , so I understand that lives can be displaced and changed beyond recognition, with the results of that still being felt two generations later,
It is Harriet’s love for fashion and an old photograph that leads her to the door of a Paris fashion PR for a year long internship. She is loaned a room in the apartment above the office alongside another girl. Harriet knows this is the very apartment where her grandmother Clare lived in the 1940s. She has left behind a difficult situation!. Having finished university Harriet has been living with her father and stepmother, where she has never felt welcome. Her father sent Harriet to boarding school when he first lived with her stepmom, following her mums death. Her father seemed to find it difficult to cope with a grieving daughter and a burgeoning relationship. One of Harriet’s most treasured possessions is the photo she has of her grandmother Claire and her two best friends in Paris, Mirreile and Vivi. She also has a charm bracelet given by her grandmother and it’s charms show Harriet a story of who her grandmother was. When we are taken back into the past we learn more about these three women. All work in an atelier for the Paris fashion houses. We find out that Claire and Mirreille lived upstairs first, but are later joined by Vivi. All three are great seamstresses and are quick to become friends.
When the Germans arrive in Paris at first is it easy to carry on as normal. Yes, there are more German voices in the cafes and bars, more German vehicles in the streets, but people still order couture clothes. However, as the war really starts to bite things begin to change. The girls friendship survives Claire’s disastrous dalliance with a German officer, but afterwards she notices a difference in her friends. What mysterious work is Vivi doing in the atelier after hours? Who is the gentleman Mirreille is seen with and why is she often missing after curfew? The girls are about to be involved in the war in ways they didn’t imagined; ways that’s could mean paying the ultimate price.
Just like the stitches in a beautiful garments the threads of history are so beautifully intertwined with the fictional story of the girls. I read Alice Hoffman’s new novel in the last few weeks and it is also set in 1940s Paris so it was interesting to see the same historic events from a different viewpoint. I could see how much research the author had done and her skill in mentioning actual events without them feeling tacked on to the girls story was brilliant, I slowly came to care about each of the girls and although Vivi seems less accessible than the other two at first, it was interesting to see how central to Harriet’s history she becomes.
The detail is often harrowing to read and the idea that trauma can be passed through generations is one I’m familiar with because I’m a therapist and have read the same research as the author. She uses this beautifully in the novel, illustrating that the German’s horrendous acts of cruelty were on such a scale that it echoes down to the next generation. It is only when someone identifies the trauma in their family and gets professional help to let go of it’s effects, that someone can start to heal. I think I expected this book to be lighter and more focused on fashion from the blurb, but what I got was far superior: an incredible story of friendship and survival.
Meet The Author
Fiona is an acclaimed number 1 bestselling author, whose books have been translated into more than twenty different languages worldwide. She draws inspiration from the stories of strong women, especially during the years of World War II. Her meticulous historical research enriches her writing with an evocative sense of time and place.
She spent seven years living in France, having moved there from the UK in 2007, before returning to live in Scotland. Her love for both of these countries, their people and their histories, has found its way into the books she’s written.
It was a privilege to have the chance to read this beautiful historical romance. Iona Grey has set her novel in the decade post WW1, where a new generation are coping with both a legacy of loss and parents that are still stuck in the hierarchical society of the Edwardian period. Selina Lennox is one of the ‘Bright Young People’, followed by the press from party to party, and determined to the live the full life that their parents, and especially older siblings, have missed out on. Her family are part of an ailing aristocracy that still has its property but is running short on money. Her elder sister is making an advantageous marriage and since the death of their brother in the war they have the pressure of producing a male heir. Selina is being steered towards the heir of a ruby mining business situated in Burma. Rupert is a war veteran, and it is possibly active service that has made him so stiff and taciturn. Selina finds him too serious and prefers the company of her friends and the social whirl of extravagant parties thrown during the season. One night, while careering through London on a treasure hunt, the car she is travelling in hits a cat. Selina can’t leave the poor creature and is horrified to see her friends disappearing into the night, leaving her in a garden square somewhere in Bloomsbury.
Young, struggling artist Lawrence Weston chances upon Selina and offers his help. They climb into the garden and give the cat a proper burial. Selina is drawn by this dark haired young man but also knows she is taking a huge risk disappearing at night with a stranger who isn’t from within her social circle. Lawrence is transfixed by Selina’s golden beauty and feels an instant connection. He knows she is far above him and her family would be horrified. He lives in a shared house and rents a studio where he paints portraits of the aristocracy’s lost sons of war in all their military splendour. This pays the bills, but he would love to be a photographer and as yet no one sees this as art. Realistically, he has no chance with Selina but can’t seem to stay away despite receiving warnings from most of his friends.
Interspersed with this is the story of Selina’s daughter Alice in the years before WW2. Alice lives back on the family estate and is being looked after by Polly who was Selina’s maid. Alice’s grandparents are still in residence, living the values of a bygone age. Miranda has now given birth to Archie, the all important heir for the estate. Selina is in Burma with her husband and we see their journey in a series of letters she writes to Alice. They clearly have a very loving relationship, so it seems strange that Alice is hidden away in the cold nursery corridor? I kept wondering why, if she loves her daughter as much as she seems to, would Selina leave her with a family who show her no affection? Alice has been sent a treasure hunt from her mother and Polly gives her the clues to follow. Solving the clues takes her to different parts of the estate and, in her mother’s words, should tell her how she came to be. This is how Alice comes to know and love the gardens, especially the deserted Chinese House with its old gramophone. What link could they hold to Selina’s past and Alice’s future?
Iona Grey has created a beautiful novel here, filled with moments of joy and sadness. For me, the meaning of the title encompasses both the historical period and the love story at the heart of the novel. The 1920s do stand as a ‘glittering hour’ – a moment of extravagance, partying and glamour, between two world wars. The generation who were young in that period defied the death that had stalked the previous generation in the trenches and were determined to enjoy life while they could. For Lawrence, Selina is his glittering hour, a moment of pure love and beauty that burns bright but can’t burn forever. Grey shows what happens when we dare to break away from the boundaries and societal rules of our class and how the reverberations from this can last for several generations. The love may not last, but the memories can sustain us for a lifetime.
Out now from Simon & Schuster U.K.
Meet The Author
Iona Grey studied English Language and Literature at the University of Manchester, where she also met her future husband on the last night of her three years there. Throwing herself headlong into marriage and babies, she worked (inefficiently, for the most part) in a series of part time jobs before a chance meeting with bestselling novelist Penny Jordan set her back on the path to her teenage dream of writing unashamedly romantic fiction.
She lives in Cheshire with her husband and three daughters. She is the award-winning author of Letters to the Lost, and her new book The Glittering Hour went on sale December 10, 2019. She is currently working on her third novel.
I’ve been a fan of Fay Weldon’s writing my whole reading life, from the time I finished the reading scheme at school and started to read proper grown-up novels. My imagination was really stirred when the TV series Life and Loves of a She-Devil hit our screens in 1986. I was thirteen, the age when a program with even a hint of sexual content was the subject of school playground chatter – if we’d had phones back then the boys would have been showing us all the ‘dirty bits’. I wasn’t allowed to watch the series. Those were the years of my parents being in an evangelical church and completely losing their minds. Anything thought to be a bad influence, particularly if it had sexual content, was banned. Pre-marital sex was a huge no-no, to the point I had to pretend to be seeing something else when all my friends went to see Dirty Dancing. Yet my reading material wasn’t policed quite as strongly and I raided the library for books by the author who’d caused all this furore. I fell in love with her combination of dramatic relationships, strong and transgressive women, feminism, and a sprinkle of magic realism.
Of course my first port of call was The Life and Loves of a She-Devil and it crossed almost every boundary I’d ever been given. After her husband reveals he’s leaving her for his delicate and dainty mistress Mary Fisher, wife Ruth lots herself in the cloakroom and starts a transformation. She will leave being a vulnerable, human woman behind. She will become a she-devil. What follows is a rather visceral journey to becoming a creature without feeling, capable of wreaking the ultimate revenge. I loved her freedom, even when it meant making choices that I couldn’t believe, like sleeping with the dirty old park keeper in his cluttered shed. Her power was intoxicating and her sheer force is too much for the old man who has a seizure. Ruth takes on many guises to get to where she wants to be – joining a commune where food is minimal and hard work is a daily reality in order to lose weight. Her sexuality is completely fluid as she sleeps with women and men, a priest and the doctors who carry out her extensive cosmetic surgery. I loved that there was no judgement and no boundaries. I think the best revenge is to live well rather than follow Ruth’s path, but it’s a bold path and it’s the ultimate in evil.
At the edge of 18, while studying for my A’Levels and applying to universities, I was drawn to the book Growing Rich. The three girls at the centre of this novel – Carmen, Annie and Laura – live in a rural village called Fenedge and are at the same crossroads in life that I was. Local businessman Bernard ? Has sold his soul to the devil, in return for the fulfilment of all his desires and one of them is Carmen. Unfortunately, Carmen is not easily obtained. The girls have always dreamed of flying far away from their little village and no one has wanted to leave more than Carmen. However, it’s Annie who flies off to the glaciers and mountains of New Zealand and into the arms of the man of her dreams. Laura gets married and starts having babies. So it’s Carmen who seemingly stays still and is ripe for the picking with Sir Bernard and the Devil in pursuit. However, they underestimate Carmen’s will and self-worth. She is not giving away anything, including her virginity, until she’s good and ready but she’s not above enjoying Sir Bernard’s inducements to change her mind. This is a beguiling mix of hormones, magic, astrology and a deadly game with the ultimate adversary.
The Cloning of Joanna May asks questions about motherhood, identity and the ethics of scientific research, whilst also being an entertaining and humorous read. Joanna believes herself to be unique, but when she is unfaithful her rich husband exacts a terrible revenge. He fractures her identity by creating Jane, Julie, Gina and Alice, four sisters young enough to be her daughters and each one is a clone of Joanna May. If there are five of us, what makes us an individual? Is self innate or formed by experience? Is self even a constant thing? Weldon has the wit and creativity to explore and answer those questions, in very cunning ways. How will they withstand the shock of meeting and if they do become close, could Carl, Joanna’s former husband and the clones’ creator, take the ultimate revenge for his wife’s infidelity and destroy her five times over? This is a witty and deceptive read, that’s much deeper than it seems especially where science has now caught up with fiction.
Finally, there’s Splitting and Affliction, both of which concentrate closely on state of mind and sense of identity. Affliction is a remarkably easy read – despite it’s difficult subject matter. I don’t know whether I’d fully grasped how abusive this man was at the time I first read it, but reading it again having gone through the experience for real wasn’t comfortable. Spicer is the abusive husband in question, he’s selfish, he undermines wife Annette and has a full set of skills from victim blaming and gaslighting to being physically, emotionally and financially abusive. We’re unsure whether Spicer has always displayed such extreme behaviour, because he has started to see a therapist which seems to have been the catalyst for talking about these issues. It’s a clever and witty novel, but is probably for those who like their comedy jet black not those who are sensitive about physical violence, alternative health converts, or trendy London types. The premise is that Annette and Spicer’s marriage is doing okay, even if not entirely faithful. This is the second time around and the proof that they’re enjoying their newfound sex life is a baby on the way. Spicer becomes embroiled with two hypnotherapists after becoming jealous when Annette writes a successful novel and starts to see things differently. Annette seems to be changing too, each seems to think the other person’s perception is altered and it becomes very difficult to work out which narrative is reality. I enjoyed the depiction of unscrupulous therapists and there’s a lot of humour despite some traumatic themes and events.
Splitting covers similar ground in that a couple are at war and perceptions might not be what they seem. Lady Angelica Rice was teenage rock sensation Kinky Virgin, but she gave up her career to marry Sir Edwin Rice. Unfortunately he turned out to be lazy and completely bankrupt, so in this unhappy union Angelica’s ‘splitting’ began: a chorus of four women in her head, each with an opinion and all of them clamouring to be heard. Now, eleven years on, Edwin is suing her for divorce and her alter egos want their revenge – the usually meek Jelly, the sexually insatiable Angel, the competent and practical Angelica and Lady Rice make a formidable team. It’s a slightly chaotic novel, with many voices and the possibility of more emerging over time as she deals with a derelict house. Is this really a house or do the rooms represent parts of Angelica’s identity. How can she ever find her real self, with four women and only one body to house them all? Is she going to be able to fight for her place and does she even want it anymore? I wondered whether she would ever be able to reconcile these different identities or if the splitting would continue.
One of the most interesting of her written works was her 2002 autobiography, wittily titled Auto Da Fay, where she still played with ideas of identity and the ability to capture a person in writing. She conveyed the difficulty of writing a life that is continuing to grow, change and evade you, even while you’re trying to pin it down in words. She was born in New Zealand, the youngest of two sisters born during her mother Margaret Jepson’s short marriage to Dr Frank Birkinshaw. Her birth is interesting, because it is surrounded by themes of turbulence, change, dislocation and separation. After a large earthquake in Napier spooked Margaret, she fled to a rural sheep farm for three months, away from their normal home, their things and her husband who was being unfaithful. It was an emotional earthquake that echoed down through the women of the family, derived from Fay’s aunt who was discovered in bed with her Uncle at the age of 17. The family fall out caused psychosis in that the aunt never recovered from, possibly because she was blamed rather than the Uncle. Weldon felt her grandmother deserved blame too, because she had failed her daughter. Her mother’s upbringing was very bohemian, she was shaken by her experience in New Zealand and returned to England. There she lived with her husband’s extended family and gave birth to her daughter, who she named Franklin but became known as Fay. This could have been the basis of her interest in split identities, as she noted that she had to take library books out in the name Franklin but was always Fay when she read them. In fact she ended up studying psychology at university, started her writing career drafting pamphlets for the foreign office then became an agony aunt in a national newspaper.
For someone who’d been taught there was one correct way of living, reading about Fay’s life was inspiring and gave me permission to make mistakes. Fay’s marriage to a school teacher who was twenty-five years her senior, with an agreement that her sexual needs would be satisfied by partner’s outside the marriage. I was fascinated by how she wrote about this period of her life, distancing herself from it by referring to herself in the third person. It was during her marriage to her second husband that she wrote her first novel The Fat Woman’s Joke in 1967. It was as if her creativity was unleashed as she wrote thirty novels in quick succession, along with television plays and a version of Pride and Prejudice where she played with the marital politics of Mr and Mrs Bennett. This was to become a theme in her work, becoming more and more extreme as she found magical ways for women to transform themselves in order to negotiate a male dominated world. This could land her in hot water, particularly in her ‘she-devil’ sequel The Death of a She-Devil where a man must change gender in order to inherit, something she blamed on fourth wave feminism and a lesbian character who did not relate to men at all. Sometimes, it was as if she enjoyed controversy, such as writing a novel containing product placement for a luxury jewellery brand. At the end of her autobiography she says nothing interesting happened to her after thirty, she was just scribbling; but she was also offering controversial views on rape, porn, cosmetic surgery and transgender rights. At 91, she was still creating, supporting other authors and managing to keep herself in the public eye. For me, she dared to make women misbehave. She made them powerful, badly behaved, successful but also gave them permission to fall apart. I didn’t agree with everything she said, but I loved her ability to confound, to say the thing you didn’t expect and create these complex psychological and magical worlds to get lost in.
Since our Squad Pod January book club choice is Philippa East’s I’ll Never Tell I thought this week I’d take you back to her debut novel.
This is an addictive and intelligent debut novel from author and therapist Philippa East. It’s a tale of a family coping with the aftermath of an abduction. Abigail White has been missing for seven years, after becoming separated from her mum, Anne, on a trip to London. Now aged 15, Abigail walks into a police station along with a younger girl. The novel flits between Anne’s viewpoint and that of Abigail’s cousin Jess. Jess and Abigail were born only four months apart and were more like twins than cousins. They had a special connection, and even after seven years apart Jess still feels she knows Abigail better than anyone. Her friend Lena warns Jess that Abigail has gone through a significant trauma and will have changed in ways they can’t see. Soon after her arrival at the police station, detectives discover that Abigail was taken from outside the tube station by a stranger. It seems that he was in the right place at the right time, just as Abigail became separated from her Mum and twin brothers. Anne had been trying to manage Abigail, the twins, a buggy and the train doors. Detective McCarthy has experience with abduction cases and uses his expertise to ask some probing questions: how did Abigail manage to wander off the platform and up to the street above, is this just a crime of opportunity or is there any chance at all that the family know this man?
Anne and her sister Lillian are close, but they are different. Lillian is the older sister and the ‘fixer’ who is organised, sensible and it seems to Anne as if she never makes mistakes. Anne’s life has been more complicated. Abigail’s birth father became an addict, causing difficulties with finances and the safety of their new family. With Lillian’s help, Anne left and despite trying to maintain contact with Abigail he has largely been absent. Anne then met Robert who has always considered Abigail his own daughter, creating a stable family unit for the first time. It is hard to imagine that Abigail could simply slot back into her family as if she never left. Anne is beset by doubts and concerns. Will Abigail expect her bedroom to be as if she never left? Can they let Jess back into her life at once or will she need time to adjust? Have the years of captivity and sexual abuse left her daughter so damaged she won’t recover? There is also the hint of a secret surrounding the moments before Abigail’s disappearance that day. Anne wonders what Abigail remembers and whether they should talk about that day. Lillian advises her to leave it alone. The tension between them and Anne’s concerns kept me hooked. To me, Abigail feels like a ticking time bomb and I found myself waiting for her to explode.
I felt that the author understood the psychology of trauma and she depicted beautifully the way a crime like this affects everyone around the victim. The trauma ripples outwards into the family like a drop of water on the surface of a pond. I really liked the insidious way that secrets are shown to damage trust and erode relationships. The depiction of Abigail is very cleverly written because it delves into the complexity of the relationship between the captor and the child. For example, Anne is startled by the findings of an educational psychologist who concludes that Abigail must have been home schooled. It seems strange that a man who has emotionally and sexually abused a child for seven years, would be concerned about their education. It made me think about the relationship between the child and the abductor. We can accept the negative aspects, but it is harder to accept that Abigail might have positive feelings toward her captor. It is as if, in order to survive mentally, she has had accepted captivity as her reality; when Cassingham abducts a younger girl it prompts her to act, but it still takes her a long time to find her voice again and be angry about her experience. The concern I had was whether Abigail would ever accept her new reality at home with her family.
I enjoyed the character of Jess and her struggle to understand the cousin who was once as close as her shadow. Can she trust that the same Abigail even exists any more? Can they jump back into easy familiarity or will Jess have to get to know this new Abigail who is the sum of her experiences? I truly empathised with her internal struggle between supporting her cousin and keeping the friends she has made since Abigail disappeared. Abigail might find it hard to fit when she has missed out on seven years of music and other popular culture. She is awkward, not knowing what to wear, how to do her hair or even how to speak. There is a gulf between her and other 15 year olds that might be too wide to bridge. It might be embarrassing for Jess, but for Abigail the frustration could be too much to cope with. She can’t find anyone who shares or truly understands her experience.
This was a great read, with believable characters facing a parent’s worst fear; their child has gone missing. I enjoyed the different perspective, focussing not on the abduction and police operation but on the issues faced when the child returns. It explores the family’s happiness and relief, only to find a relative stranger in their midst. Alongside this central narrative, East also explores the complexity of modern family relationships, and poses the question of whether we truly know the people we love and live alongside. Within the relationship of Jess and Abigail, we see the pains of growing up and fitting in, particularly the realisations that our elders are fallible and the World might not be as safe as we imagine.
I would like to thank NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Julia is a lawyer, Paul a stay-at-home dad who has dedicated his life to helping their daughter Chrissie achieve her dreams as a talented violinist. But on the night of a prestigious music competition, which has the power to change everything for Chrissie and her family, Chrissie goes missing. She puts on the performance of a lifetime, then completely disappears. Suddenly every single crack, every single secret that the family is hiding risks being exposed.
Because the Goodlights aren’t perfect. Not even close.
Wow this book is tense! Tense enough to give you a migraine. East has a way of writing that flows so well, but is paced to give a really slow drip drip of information. It’s clear from just the day to day activities of the Goodlights that something is ‘off’ and my brain was skittering all over the place to work it out, rather like Bambi on the ice. The author pulls off a clever trick, by letting the Goodlights speak for themselves. She’s not explicit, but their inner talk and actions allow the evidence to pile up; something is badly wrong here, but the author withholds just enough that we don’t know what is that is. As I read on, my brain was coming up with more and more questions. What’s with Julia’s parents and their strange attitude towards women’s behaviour? Why is Paul so obsessed with his stepdaughter’s career and so rigid with her regime? Is it the result of a thwarted desire in his own life and will Chrissie snap under the pressure? What’s with the strange background conversations between Julia’s mother and Paul? I’m not surprised at all when Chrissie goes missing, the only surprise is that she didn’t go sooner.
I found Paul’s attitude with Chrissie really disturbing. I understand wanting the best for your child, but this is creepy. Not only does he control her potential career and keep her practicing, he looks after her diet, her free time and leaves her with no privacy – even policing her phone, from quickly checking the screen when a notification comes in, to demanding to look through all her messages and emails. Does he have her on such a short lease to prevent something happening, or is he reacting to something that’s happened before? There’s a strange dynamic between Chrissie’s grandmother and Paul. I was disturbed by her attitude towards her daughter and granddaughter with her suggestion that certain behaviours are in the blood and there’s something tainted in their DNA. It’s almost as if they appreciate Paul more than their own flesh and blood. At times Celina speaks to him as if he’s a member of staff. There are pictures hidden in Julia’s childhood bedroom of a time at university when she appears free and perhaps part of a hippy group, implying experimentation with drugs and promiscuity. Celina is concerned that her ‘tainted blood’ has passed to Chrissie and tells Paul ‘I can smell it on her’ giving an unpleasant image of an animal in heat. Was she the instigator of the rigid regime Paul imposed on his stepdaughter or was she merely the gatekeeper? Patriarchies often depend on women to uphold their rules. I felt uncomfortable all the way through this novel, but in retrospect I think this was down to my own experience in an abusive relationship. There’s now something in me that is repulsed by males like Paul exerting power over the women in their family, exerting coercive control and gaslighting those they are supposed to love most. This tells me that the author’s depiction is successful, or it wouldn’t have made me feel this way.
Throughout the novel my brain was drifting back to Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys’s response Wide Sargasso Sea and the anti-heroine Bertha Mason. Bertha (whose name is actually Antoinette) is Mr Rochester’s first wife, doomed to a life locked in an attic, because of her unnatural passions and hereditary madness. She works as a contrast to the still and quiet Jane, who was constantly told to rein in her passionate nature when she was a child. Bertha’s fate could have been Jane’s. However, in her book Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys gives Bertha a back story where Rochester marries then rejects the wife who was too passionate in the bedroom and enjoyed his advances – the inference being that a wife should meekly accept sexual advances, but not relish them. I felt throughout East’s novel, that a similar misogynistic double standard is at play. When we delve into Julia’s inner world we can see how insidious emotional abuse is, because these ideas are running through her head constantly. She doubts her own instincts and worries that Chrissie’s disappearance is a consequence of her failure to ‘behave’ in the way she’s been taught. Paul and Julia don’t fully communicate either, operating in completely different spheres with him at home and her at work. Law is such a demanding career and Julia works constantly, almost like it’s a penance, rarely interacting with Paul or Chrissie and never involved in her daughter’s strict regime. It’s almost as if she’s abdicated all responsibility for her to Paul, but is that choice or a mistaken belief that he’ll do a better job than her? There’s also the shadowy figure of Francis, someone she doesn’t want near her family and seems to fear. This really is a toxic mix, a family who seem shielded from scrutiny by their money and once you delve beyond appearances, are a million miles away from the ordinary. Will Chrissie be found and is her disappearance down to a malign outside influence as they all suspect? Whatever has happened to Chrissie, you’ll not stop reading till you work out what is so deeply wrong at the heart of this family?
Published on 12th January by HQ
Thanks to HQ and the Squad Pod Collective for my proof copy.
It’s possibly way too early to start picking candidates for favourite books of 2023 – I’m still deliberating over 2022 – but I think this book is certainly going to be in contention. Grace is one of those characters that you fantasise about having cocktails with and you already know you’d have the best time. Grace is stuck in traffic, it’s a boiling hot day and she’s melting. All she wants to do is get to the bakery and pick up the cake for her daughter’s birthday. This is one hell of a birthday cake, not only is it a Love Island cake; it has to say that Grace cares, that she’s sorry, that will show Lotte she loves her and hasn’t given up on their relationship. It’s shaping up to be the day from hell and as Grace sits in a tin can on boiling hot tarmac, something snaps. She decides to get out of the car and walk, leaving her vehicle stranded and pissing off everyone now blocked by a car parked in the middle of a busy road. So, despite the fact her trainers aren’t broken in, she sets off walking towards the bakery and a reunion with Lotte. There are just a few obstacles in the way, but Grace can see the cake and Lotte’s face when she opens the box. As she walks she recounts everything that has happened to bring her to where she is now.
When we first meet Grace she’s living alone, estranged from husband Ben and even from her teenage daughter Lotte. She’s peri-menopausal, wearing trainers her daughter thinks she shouldn’t be wearing at her age and she’s had enough. There’s that sense of the Michael Douglas film Falling Down except when the meltdown comes all she has is a water pistol filled with river water, an embarrassingly tiny Love Island cake and a blister on her heel. Then in flashbacks we can follow Grace all the way back to the start, to when she and Ben met at a competition for polyglots. We also get Ben’s point of view here too, so we see her through his eyes and fall in love with her too. He describes her as looking like Julianne Moore, her hair in a messy up do with the odd pencils tucked in. She suggests that, should she win the prize of a luxury hotel break in Cornwall, they should go together. It’s a crazy suggestion, but deep down, he really wants to go with this incredible woman. Once there, the first thing she does is dive into the sea to save a drowning woman. Ben has never met anyone so free and fearless. Yet on their return four months pass before Grace tracks him down and they meet at the Russian Tea Room. There Grace tells him that he’s going to be a father, he doesn’t have to be in, but can they come to an agreement? Of course Ben is in, he was never out. There love story is touching and yet honest at the same time, it’s not all schmaltzy romance – for example after coming together in Cornwall, Grace’s bed is full of sand. It’s so sad to contrast these early months with the distance between them now, what could possibly have brought them to this place.
I eagerly read about Grace and Lotte’s relationship because I’m a stepmum to a 13 and 17 year old girl. I thought this was beautifully observed, with all the ups and downs of two women at either end of a battle with their hormones. There’s that underlying sadness, a sort of grief for the child who called out for her Mum, who let Mum play Sutherland her hair and would lie in an entwined heap on the sofa watching films. Grace aches to touch her daughter in the same way she did when she was a toddler, but now Lotte watches TV in her bedroom and shrugs off cuddles and intimacy of the physical or emotional life. Pulling away is the normal process of growing up and reminds me of the ABBA song ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’. In the film Mamma Mia, Meryl Streep plays Donna as she helps her daughter get ready for her wedding. In the cinema with my Mum I could see she was emotional and now with my own stepdaughters I can understand it. I just get used to them being a certain age and they’ve grown, with one going to university next year I’m going to be so proud of her, but I’m going to miss her terribly. There’s also a terrible fear, as Grace sees her daughter’s behaviour at school deteriorate and her truant days start to add up, she’s desperate to find out what’s wrong, but Lotte won’t talk. She’s torn between Lotte’s privacy and the need to find the problem and help her daughter, but some mistakes have to be made in order to learn. Grace might have to sit by and watch this mistake unfold and simply be there when it goes wrong. No doubt, she thinks, Grace is involved with a boy and it will pass, but the reality is so much worse.
The truth when it comes is devastating, but feels weirdly like something you’ve known all along. Those interspersed chapters from happier times are a countdown to this moment, a before and after that runs like a fault line through everything that’s happened since. As Grace closes in on Lotte’s party, sweaty, dirty and brandishing her tiny squashed cake, it doesn’t seem enough to overturn everything that’s happened, but of course it isn’t about the cake. This is about everything Grace has done to be here, including the illegal bits. In a day that’s highlighted to Grace how much she has changed, physically and emotionally, her determination to get to Lotte has shown those who love her best that she is still the same kick-ass woman who threw caution to the wind and waded into the sea to save a man she didn’t know from drowning. That tiny glimpse of how amazing Grace Adams is, might just save everything.
I picked Russ Thomas’s last novel on NetGalley because I noticed it was set in Sheffield. Since I live just across the river from South Yorkshire, Sheffield is our nearest big city. It’s my ‘go to’ place for the theatre, concerts and decent shopping. In fact Meadowhall was vital when I was a teenager, because we were pre-internet and if you didn’t shop further afield you would find yourself at a club in the same Dorothy Perkins top as everyone else. So my introduction to DS Tyler was actually the second book in the series called Nighthawking and it was set around the Winter Gardens. I found myself drawn in by the case being investigated, but also by Adam himself. He’s a rather complicated character with a difficult childhood and the trauma of finding his father hanging in the family home when he came home from school. Subsequent investigations into Richard Tyler’s death concluded it was a suicide, brought about by corrupt dealings with organised crime and the fear of being discovered. As if that’s not hard enough to live down, Adam’s godmother and the woman who brought him up is now DCI Diane Jordan. Adam is either treated with suspicion for being corrupt like his father or for being the DCI’s pet. Finally, there’s his sexuality, which shouldn’t have a bearing on his work relationships, but probably does in a macho environment like the police force.
Since I had organised time to spare this December to read freely – a true Christmas gift for a book blogger – I decided to read both the first and the latest instalments of the series. In the first novel, Firewatching, Adam picks up a case that’s both cold and red hot. A body is found bricked up in the walls of a country house, a house that’s lain empty since the disappearance of the owner several years before. From the injuries to the fingers of the body, it’s clear the victim was walled in alive. DI Dogget is on board for the murder case so Adam is called in to work alongside him. However, it’s soon clear that the case does have a connection to Adam and he’s soon hopelessly compromised. Matters in his personal life also become tangled in the case, but most disturbing is that the reader knows someone close to Adam is not what they seem. They’re a blogger, but their muse is fire. How far will they go to entertain their readers? This is a fantastic start to a series, managing to establish a character and his back story, while still presenting a solid and tricky crime to solve. I loved the two elderly ladies linked to the big house, living close by in their little bungalow. They have lived together nearly all of their lives, after a friendship cemented by helping out in the horror of the Blitz where fire destroyed large swathes of London. Adam’s friend was also interesting, a woman civilian in the station who wants to get him involved in the LGBTQ+ group and improve his social life. She is dragging him out pubbing and clubbing when she can persuade him. Police officers have to tread very carefully though in their local pubs and clubs. You never know who you might meet. This is an incredible Russian doll of a case with one crime inside another needing to solved before they get to the truth of the house’s terrible history.
The third and latest novel, Cold Reckoning, is now available in paperback and starts with a very effective cold isolated country walk. Matilda Darke is escaping the claustrophobic house she shares with her mum and the caring role she has now her mum has fibromyalgia. It’s a clear, crisp morning near the lake and Matilda hears a gunshot. Making her way home she stumbles across a man coming out of a cabin. Neither expected the other to be there, but his cold hard stare sends an immediate chill through Matilda and she knows this man means her harm. So she runs and never stops to even look behind her. This opening leaves us asking so many questions. Was this where the gunshot came from? Was she right to be scared? Does the man know Matilda and her walking routine, or was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Adam’s life is also upside down, because DCI Diane Jordan, his godmother, has gone missing. This is so out of character he knows something is terribly wrong and with the search for her on his mind he’s called on to help DI Doggett with a very strange case. In a lakeside cabin there are signs of a struggle and blood spatter consistent with a gunshot wound, but there’s no body. Nearby though, a body is suspended in a frozen lake. The man has no wounds and has been dead a lot longer than this lake has been frozen. How do these two things fit together or are they a complete coincidence?
I thought this latest novel was clever, not just the case which again strays close to home for Adam, but the details of the characterisation. From their rather gruff and begrudging start back in the first novel Doggett and Tyler have become a team. There’s a trust that’s built between them and they are keeping a lot of information close to their chests, the knowledge of a possible conspiracy between the police, local dignitaries and organised crime. It might even have a bearing on Adam’s father’s death, but there’s still a lot to unravel. Their close conversations and sudden silences when others enter the room has been noticed. DC Rabbani has come a long way since Tyler seconded her to CID in the first novel. She has great instincts, is good with people and she’s furious that the other two members of the team have been keeping something from her. So furious that she could be persuaded to keep the acting Chief Constable in the loop about their suspicions. Rabbani wants to be part of the team, and although the two detectives only want to protect her, she sees their secrecy as a lack of trust. Tyler is a conundrum. Seeing him try to take steps towards improving his mental health is great, but he can only let some of his guard down. He’s also not learned a lesson about keeping his private life and working life separate. By this third instalment I felt like I’d really come to know these characters and care about them. Added to that, the cold cases really are complex, taking us back into the past and into situations that people have tried to leave behind. Witnesses are reluctant and when they’re being asked to remember twenty years ago their memories can be shaky. DI Tyler is a flawed hero, but he does want to find the truth and bring justice to those who have been wronged. However far back he has to dig to find the answers. Im now looking forward to our fourth instalment.
Meet the Author
RUSS THOMAS was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. After a few ‘proper’ jobs (among them: pot-washer, optician’s receptionist, supermarket warehouse operative, call-centre telephonist, and storage salesman) he discovered the joys of bookselling, where he could talk to people about books all day. Firewatching is his debut novel, followed by Nighthawking and Cold Reckoning.